Picasso's 1915 pencil drawing of dealer Amboise Vollard (C. Zervos, vol. II, no. 384) signaled a new direction in the artist's career, characterized by an objective and stylized realism with a pronounced classical feeling that recalled Ingres, the Mannerist painters of the 16th century, and the painting of antiquity. By 1920 Picasso's appreciation of Renoir, who died in 1919, lent further momentum to this classicizing trend. Among the Cubists there was consternation and disapproval. More conservative critics welcomed the return to traditional figuration. Throughout this period Picasso continued to paint Cubist and classical pictures side-by-side, leading many to believe that he and his dealer Paul Rosenberg were cynically exploiting public taste. Others saw no reason why one style should exclude the other.
As Picasso said in a 1923 interview, his different styles were not exclusive phases in an evolutionary process but alternatives from which he selected according to his expressive goals. His response to the succession of styles that defines the common conception of avant-garde art before World War I was not to claim discovery of "the next step" but to accept a situation characterized by multiplicity, where the past as well as the present and the imagined future could be explored. (M.C. FitzGerald, Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth Century Art, New York, 1995, p. 130)
During certain periods in the early 1920s, Picasso gave his best energies to Cubism; indeed, in 1921 he painted Trois Musiciens (C. Zervos, vol. IV, no. 332; coll. Philadelphia Museum of Art), which many feel represents the peak of synthetic Cubism. During this period straight lines and rectangular forms predominate over curvilinear shapes. The striped surfaces in the present work recall drawings which Braque made in 1917, which intermingle classical and Cubist approaches, being composed of broken, straight horizontal lines. Corbeille avec fruits demonstrates the final phase of Cubism, characterized by the absolute flatness of the picture plane, decorative surfaces, and absolute mastery of intuitively generated and simplified form, which is as purely classical in its impact as the artist's more explicitly figurative pictures.